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OMBUDSMAN ATTACKS FINDINGS OF GOVERNMENT REVIEW

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The Commission for Local Administration in England has attacked the findings of the 'prior options assessment' stag...
The Commission for Local Administration in England has attacked the findings of the 'prior options assessment' stage of the government's finance management and policy review of the organisation.

The commission has welcomed the government's announcement that the second stage of the review - which will focus particularly on the efficiency and effectiveness of the commission's procedures as an investigating body - would now proceed.

Commenting on Sir Geoffrey Chipperfield's report on the first stage of the review, commission chairman Edward Osmotherly said:

'We welcome any changes that is in the interests of complaints, Sir Geoffrey Chipperfield's proposals fail that test.

'We say this because Sir Geoffrey:

-- proposes that the power to investigate complaints should be exercised only by people who are not independent of the council which is the subject of the complaint;

-- proposes a 'central or validating body' that would be adversarial in procedure and without powers either to investigate or to recommend redress;

-- treats complaints against local authorities differently from those against government departments, national health bodies and other public service providers;

-- goes against the unequivocal view of the citizen's charter task force that the ombudsmen 'fulfil an important role as the ultimate rung on the complaints ladder - providing a fully independent channel for the external review of complaints.'

'By contrast with Sir Geoffrey's proposals, the local government ombudsmen are wholly independent and impartial; have the powers of a 'high court judge' to require the production of written and oral evidence; are investigative not adversarial; and can recommend remedies for complaints.

'The commission cannot see any justification for giving someone complaining about the actions of a council less help that someone complaining about a government department, a national health body or a housing association.

'Sir Geoffrey's proposals are also contrary to the evidence he received from the local authority associations, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux and the National Consumer Council; they were unanimous about the need to retain the ombudsmen.

'The commission is very glad, therefore, that the government has decided to press ahead with stage two of the review. From the beginning, we have wanted the review to show how we can improve our service while retaining out independence, impartiality and thoroughness. We believe that the strengthening and development of local authorities' own complaints systems has an important part to play in this and we look forward to contributing to the next stage of the review.'

The commission considers that the report contains misunderstandings about its work. These are commented on in a detailed note which is available on request from Hilary Pook on 0171 915 3289 or Rob Rundle on 0171 915 3286.

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